A simple step that can be taken to reduce energy costs in businesses and homes is to switch your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs. (cfl’s) Making the decision to change is still not as easy as it should be, so here are a few thoughts on the subject.
We can probably all remember the time several years ago when the cfl’s first arrived. Our first two came as a free promotion from the electric company. They were an odd, large spiral shape that did not conform at all to traditional ideas of light bulbs. Those first two bulbs sat unused for months while I tried to find a place to use them. They were too long to fit into a traditional ceiling light. They could not go on a lamp which required the shade to clamp on to the bulb. They were so odd looking that we did not want them in a place where we could see the actual bulb. When I did finally find a lamp in the living room where they would work, it was decided the quality of light made the room look like a department store. They found their way back into their cases and on to the laundry room shelf where they sat unused for a year or more until I thought to put them in the barn where the objectionable light would not be an issue. A year or two later when the cfl’s started to become widely available in stores, many of the same problems existed. Plus, they were prohibitively expensive, even considering their claims of long life and lower energy use.
My, how times have changed in the world of cfl’s! Now there are bulbs in all shapes and sizes, many duplicating the shape of the traditional incandescent light bulb. They light quality of the bulb has also changed for the better, closely duplicating the warmer light we are used seeing from incandescent bulbs. I even found a yellow cfl bug light for the front porch. Best of all, the price has come way down. Last week, I found a display of cfl’s in all sizes marked on sale at 40% off their normal retail. This lower price, combined with the choice of wattage, shapes, sizes, longer life, and energy savings, made purchasing several an easy decision.
Because of the small mercury content in these bulbs, there is a need to recycle, rather than tossing them in the trash. This issue is less of a problem than many think because of the long life of the bulbs. The first ones I installed a few years ago are still going strong. There are also precautions to use in cleaning up a broken cfl. I will detail what I can find out on the mercury question in another article, but will just say now that incandescent bulbs have their own environmental issues, in the manufacturing process and in the higher energy use. The energy used to power our homes is mostly provided by coal burning power plants which emit mercury into the air. The best solution eventually may be the new bright LED bulbs. Right now, their cost is prohibitively expensive for most uses, but that may change as the technology gets better and the economies of scale reduce prices.
If you have been resisting the switch from incandescent to CFL bulbs, now may be the time for another look. There are even some models that can be used in a fixture attached to a dimmer switch. The improved light quality, bulb size and shape, and price make these energy saving bulbs much more desirable. The mercury issue is complicated. I compromise and do not use the cfl’s in fixtures or lamps where they might be easily broken. However, I do use them in overhead lighting, and outdoor porch fixtures.